The Importance of Preparation for Pitchers
Youth baseball players will come to a point in their playing careers, typically at the high school level, in which they will find themselves no longer able to simply over-power opposing hitters with their “stuff” alone. At this point in a pitcher’s playing career, it’s pertinent to learn the importance of preparation and create a routine that will put them in position to achieve success on the mound.
A pitcher’s pre-game preparations should be a focused two-sided approach which includes both the mental preparation and physical preparation leading up to a start, or even their turn in the bullpen.
In this article we will go over the importance of both mental and physical preparation as well as provide pitchers with a plan that they can adopt into their pre-game routine moving forward.
It’s worth pointing out for the pitchers reading this, that I used Clayton Kershaw as the pitcher in the photos within the article because Kershaw is the opitomy of a prepared pitcher, evident by his massive success and ability to stay healthy on a regular basis.
I list the Mental aspect of a pitcher’s preparation first, because if a pitcher isn’t focused and prepared mentally for the task at hand, he will not be able to achieve the desired physical results, regardless of the player’s physical capabilities.
A pitcher should be thinking about his previous start and what he wants to carry over and what he wants to adjust in his next start. The night before is a good time to jot down some notes that you want to bring into the next day’s pre-game bullpen session and incorporate into your game-plan.
The morning of the start, stay loose and relaxed, at the high school level you have been pitching for a while and are likely in possession of the physical attributes or “stuff” to get the job done, or you wouldn’t be in the pitching rotation — so relax and don’t overthink the task at hand.
Hit the shuffle button on the iPod or cell phone and toss your ear buds in and relax. Most coaching staffs will allow, and even encourage his starting pitcher for the day to break off from the rest of the team so that he can run through his mental and physical routine.
When in your pre-game bullpen session, begin to turn it on upstairs and go over your notes from the night before and incorporate your game-plan into your bullpen session.
Let your body do the rest.
The physical preparation, much like the mental preparation should begin before the day of the start. Most coaches will have a pitching rotation that they use throughout the season, sometimes the rotation varies especially for travel teams that have less predictable schedules due to tournament play, but generally a coach will give his pitcher(s) for the following day a heads up at least a day in advance if possible.
That being said, it’s likely that you’ll know when it’s your turn on the bump at least a night in advance. That means that you should begin your preparation for the next day with the often overlooked basics in everyday life. Eat a balanced dinner and get a good night’s sleep, it’s important that your body is rested and well nutritioned in any sporting event. A light and balanced breakfast is always suggested for an athlete on game-day, so this obviously applies here as well.
It’s incredibly difficult to get a high school or collegiate player to adhere to this portion of the preparation phase, mainly because you are not at home with the player to ensure that they are properly caring for their bodies.
Players need to take accountability for their off-field preparation and ensure that they’re rested and iced when needed.
Once the player arrives at the field, he should begin his preparation by warming up his legs by running. Simply head to the foul pole nearest your team’s dugout or bullpen for the game at hand and begin your routine with a jog along the warning track from foul pole to foul pole, commonly referred to as “running poles.” Three to six “poles” should be sufficient in getting the heart rate increased and the blood flowing.
The running will get the blood flowing and make it easier for the player to stretch, and it also helps prevent injury during stretching and throwing activities.
A great thing to incorporate into a pitcher’s pre-game routine is the use of a foam roller. They’re small enough to fit into most styles of equipment bags to transport to and from the field. If a pitcher has a foam roller, he should use it before his running portion of his pre-game routine.
Stretching is the next phase of any good pre-game routine. Players should focus on starting with the lower-half of their body and working their way upward with their stretching regimen.
Lower-body stretching should include dynamic stretching exercises that focus on the leg muscles, groin, and hips. Upper-body stretching should focus on stretching of the lower and upper back and arms, especially the rotator cuff.
Incorporating the use of resistance bands, or the popular “J-Bands” is the next step in the pre-game routine, players should spend anywhere from 5–10 minutes with their resistance bands before moving on to throwing.
After the pitcher is completely stretched out, they should return to the running portion of their routine before beginning their throwing. Instead of jogging along the warning track to get the blood flowing through the body, this time the pitcher should do some light sprinting.
Be sure that you’re not overdoing the sprinting portion of the routine, but make sure that you have the desired amount of explosiveness in the legs that will allow the pitcher to generate his velocity from his lower-half during the game. Sprinting along the first or third baseline from home to first (or third depending on what side you’re on) is a good marker for the distance that the pitcher should be running (90 feet). Five or six sprints at less that 100 percent effort followed by a couple shorter, but more explosive sprints should do the trick for most.
Much like the running and stretching portion of the routine, warming-up is essential for the throwing portion of the warm-up as well. With another teammate or your catcher, play catch along the outfield foul line before heading into the bullpen for your actual bullpen session. Injury prevention depends on proper preparation, and “tedious” steps such as jogging before stretching and light tossing before a bullpen are key factors in proper injury prevention, especially in pitchers.
Start close to your partner and work your way away from your partner, limit the distance between the pitcher and the partner to roughly 65–75 feet. There’s no number of tosses to put on this portion of the routine, but the key is for the throwing arm to feel lose and comfortable but not fatigued, don’t spend too long on the soft tossing portion.
After the pitcher is loose, head to the bullpen with your catcher for the day and begin the bullpen session. Before you begin throwing, go over the game plan for the day, make sure both parts of the battery are on the same page with signs and the locations that they want to work with, as well as the pitches that they want to incorporate and emphasise for that particular start, and use the bullpen to run through the game plan for the day, with an emphasis on hitting spots and getting a feel for secondary pitches prior to the game.
The last few pitches of the bullpen should be 100 percent velocity, finishing up the bullpen ready to hit the mound and execute your game-plan for the day.
Pitchers who lack the ability or focus and discipline to properly prepare for their job are often heavily dependent on their physical capabilities, and often fly by the seat of their pants.
“Stuff” alone will not get you through the ranks as a pitcher, and mental and physical preparedness are imperative to a pitcher’s success.